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So, what went wrong?

Introduction

There are lots of good things about modern Meccano. Just the fact that it exists is one of them. And there are new and interesting parts being made. All the same, the "hobby" of Meccano has declined very seriously and has very few new young members. Why is this? What happened?

There's been lots of discussion about this.  But strangely enough, Meccano themselves have defined the issues &ndash in their catalogue of April 1949.  There is a good introduction to Meccano in this catalogue, running to four pages of the small booklet.  Interestingly, almost all of the key points described in this catalogue have been ignored by the various Meccano companies for a very long time.

All the quotes given below are from these four small pages in the Meccano catalogue.

The outfits and parts

Meccano is made in eleven different outfits ranging from No.0, the smallest, to No.10, the largest.  These outfits are linked together by Accessory or "A" outfits, which enable you to pass from one Outfit to the next larger without unnecessary duplication of parts.  None of your original parts is wasted; you do not have to buy any parts twice over.  
This is one of the key issues in my mind.  As we all know, there is no link from one outfit to the next nowadays.  There are several different 'series' in existence, mostly with completely different colour schemes, none bearing any relationship to the next.  This confusion at the retail shelf is a massive turn-off for the buyer and seems designed to reduce sales.  The only numbered series of outfits (10, 20, 30, 40, 50) have no linking accessory outfits, meaning that there is no encouragement for the buyer to come back and get more.  This wouldn't be quite as bad if the colours matched each other, as then at least larger models could be built without them looking like a dog's breakfast.
In addition, most of the Meccano parts can be bought separately, so that you can increase your stock of any particular part, or replace parts you have lost.  
The expense of stocking replacement parts is often quoted as the reason for the spare parts no longer being available, but this sounds like rubbish.  The parts were never cheap in the first place.  Toy shops are rarely reluctant to sell even low-priced items, as they bring in customers.  And, crucially, the Meccano spare parts industry was one driven by the kids themselves, who would save up to go buying the parts they wanted.

Obviously, the spare parts industry nowadays should be available online, and in fact could be done like this exclusively (bypassing the objections about toy shops altogether).  Now, it is technically possible to buy certain spare parts online at the moment, but not directly from a Meccano website, and the supply of parts is often a problem.  It appears that Meccano isn't as good at supplying the online distributors as they might be.

The parts in their shining colours are fascinating to look at and to handle. They are made of metal of the finest quality.  
Well, isn't it inevitable there will be some plastic parts, given the price of metal? Not necessarily, I would argue. Even during some of the world's worst periods of metal shortage, two world wars and the Korean war, Meccano managed to make the parts they wanted – with blackening or other substitute finishes. All of these parts last a great deal longer than plastic ones. The continuing value of Meccano is that even parts 100 years old are still just as good as they were when they were made, provided they have been kept reasonably dry. Cost-effective finishes such as anodising and blackening could be used to make exceptionally durable parts today.

Manuals and models

...it is not necessary to begin your Meccano career with the smallest Outfits...  The Book of Instructions for each Outfit includes these pages of models for smaller Outfits.  
With current Meccano outfits, only the smallest outfits contain simple introductory models.  The Mechanical Workshop, for example, contains instructions for several quite ambitious models, tricky even for experienced Meccano model builders.  An eight- or nine-year-old has almost no chance. By comparison, even the very largest of all outfits up to the end of the Binns Road period contained instructions for a small selection of very simple models, gradually moving to larger and more complex models.  The pre-war instruction manuals contain models that even four-year-olds can build successfully.
When you have built all the models shown, or as many of them as takes your fancy, try your hand at rebuilding one or two of them with small alterations that will readily occur to you.  
Many of the outfits (for example, the tuning cars) have almost no alternative models, or at least not enough parts that much variation can be achieved.  Recently, a Meccano enthusiast built a ball-rolling machine from the contents of the modern ferris wheel set.  It was heralded as an achievement, and many fellow enthusiasts copied it eagerly.  The fact that one interesting and complex alternative model could be built from the contents of a set should hardly be a surprise!
Each Book of Instructions contains also an illustrated list of all the Meccano parts so that you can readily identify them.  
At best, each Meccano outfit now contains pictures and quantities of each part supplied in that outfit.  Most of them are not even described (presumably to save money in translations?) There is almost no record of the various Meccano parts that are currently available.  Oscar Felguieras is maintaining a list of the current parts lists, but it is quite a job.  Colour schemes and variations in supply from one country to the next makes is almost impossible to know what parts are available, and certainly there is no information from Meccano about what parts can be purchased.
Even the smallest Outfits enable you to build a variety of models that work on exactly the same principles as the originals. With the larger Outfits you can build machines and engines of all kinds, with their working details reproduced accurately in miniature. Steam engines with cylinders, pistons and valve gear; motor cars with steering mechanism, gear-boxes and differential; machine tools such as lathes that will actually cut wood or wax; cranes that lift, luff, swivel and travel along; lift and opening bridges – all these and many other fascinating machines and structures can be built...  
With the possible exception of the Mechanical Workshop, there is no Meccano outfit that can build anything like this range of models. Most can build only one or two types, and even the multi-model outfits contain strange varieties of cranes that have no obvious connection to the real world. The idea of a single outfit, such as the 1950's outfits 6, 7, 8, or 9, that have a reasonable range of parts and can build a wide range of models depending on the choice of the builder, has disappeared.

I'd love to hear your comments on the above... please feel free to add them below...

Comments

Total number of messages on this page: 13.  This is page 2 of 3.   Previous  Next

D Hedgley      (at 12:47pm, Mon 15th Aug, 11)

At 62 I'm in two minds as to wether Meccano has changed for the worst and therefore is without the attraction it once had, or wether youngsters have changed and are too distracted by modern computer orientated toys/games and no longer possess the patience, understanding or attention span to build anything 'complicated' that is not 'instant'. As an automation technical manager I use and embrace new equipment every month and so would hope my view does not represent a 'When I was a boy' attitude.
Doug, UK.

Sarah Cathcart      (at 4:33am, Fri 29th Jul, 11)

I agree with all of the comments, on the whole. It would be much better if Meccano (the company) made sets with an obvious progression from one to the next. There is too much concentration of making cars or helicopters to play with instead of models of real life objects like scales, bridges, cranes with lots of pulleys, 'toys' which operate by cranks etc etc.

Having said that, I do find even the modern sets quite useful when tutoring boys. With a little supervision and encouragement and the offer of a third hand occasionally they can be 'taught' to use them and in this process much maths and basic engineering can be covered. Gradually, I find, the youngsters are more and more prepared to try for themselves and can attempt some of the more challenging models. But, the older sets where one had to learn by building progressively more difficult models after learning the different processes were much more satisfactory. Availability prevents much use of the older meccano so the moderns sets are a good compromise.

Isn't Meccano interested in developing a better framework of sets? Wouldn't they sell more by doing so?

R Thornton      (at 5:38pm, Tue 28th Dec, 10)

I have just been trying to help my 8 year old assemble the "Push Bike" model in the "5 Model Set". Very difficult with vague instructions for only three of the five models. My sons comment.
"This is junk, I'd much rather play with my Lego." Sad but true Maccano has lost the plot.

Robert Preston.      (at 9:10am, Wed 11th Nov, 09)

The philisophy of todays Meccano is largely about pizazz and marketing:Meccano has come out with zany,and sometimes newfangled and unrealistic,model-sets in order to attract the children and youth market away from their equally zany computer games and other electronic marvels. But in doing so,it appears that Meccano has largely abandoned Frank Hornby's original Meccano concept.As for the use of cheap plastic for gears and other components:it is an insult to Meccano and engineering in general!
But cheapness has spread into other mechanical things as well. I bought a Westclox Clockwork Alarm Clock a few yea**ince,and I was dismayed to discover that nearly all of its gearwheels were made out of,horror of horrors,plastic!.......and this clock could not keep time! Is there any wonder?!! Bring back brass and steel!

Conan Lynch      (at 3:35am, Mon 12th Oct, 09)

Couldn't agree more. The models in modern sets bear little or no resemblance to anything real. So much so that Meccano cannot even dream up names for any of them!!
And what about the nasty packaging: you can't even look inside in the shop as its lazily shoved into disposable plastic bags. The buyer then has to sort them into unsuitable plastic sections.
And of course the cardbord cover gets lost as its not even attached to the plastic case!

T Hathaway      (at 4:38pm, Mon 14th Sep, 09)

I have to agree the modern Meccano's are useless without the instruction book. Also the models are very difficult to build and the ones for 8+ are almost impossible for most adults as well. They only have a few things to build and it is hard to put them together.

We bought one because my husband loved them as a kid in the 80's. My husband put together one of the models it was very difficult for him now most of the parts have been spread around the house. They aren't cheap either so I feel like we just waisted our money.


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